Learn more about these helpful herbal herpes remedies to help treat genital herpes outbreaks.
Unfortunately, I am one of the many Americans who have genital herpes. I want to try and stay away from pharmaceutical medications because I do not want to ruin my liver. I have heard that herbs are sometimes used. Can you tell me more about them?
—M.B., Los Angeles, California
Stansbury responds: Because herpes is a virus, all of the measures known to improve the immune system might reduce outbreaks. Our immune systems are weakened by too little sleep; too much stress; too much sugar, alcohol and processed foods; and by a diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. Improvements in these areas should be the first step.
One of the most widely discussed natural therapies for herpes eruptions has been the essential amino acid lysine, shown to assist the body in fighting all viruses, including these difficult ones. Lysine often is combined with vitamin C and taken in 500-mg tablets three times per day with meals, doubling or tripling the dose at the first sign of an outbreak.
Herbs that have been specifically shown to be active against the herpes virus include lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). An inexpensive option would be to consume these herbs as tea — several cups per day — reducing over time as outbreaks improve. These also may be found in tincture and pill form in health-food stores.
Other herbs to consider are immune builders such as astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), echinacea (Echinacea spp.) and medicinal mushrooms. If outbreaks occur with stress more than the immune system being run down, also consider adrenal-supportive and nerve-supporting herbs such as ashwaganda (Withania somnifera).
Nutrients thought to reduce viral activity include vitamin C, zinc and beta-carotene. You might take an antioxidant formula which would include these, along with the above herbs and nutritional/lifestyle changes, for three to six months to determine if outbreaks can be reduced in that time. Increase the dosage at the onset of any outbreaks that occur during this period.
If pharmaceutical therapy is necessary, liver-supportive herbs can be used in tandem with herpes drugs. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and burdock (Arctium lappa) are among my favorites.
Willard responds: Many people with genital herpes remain asymptomatic, that is, carrying the virus in a dormant state, for years or even their entire lives. After the initial infection, the virus will remain in a dormant state in the nervous system until something triggers an outbreak. Herpes outbreaks will sometimes recur after minor infections, trauma and stress.
Once a person has herpes, it is unlikely that he or she will ever rid the body of the virus. The goal is to keep herpes in a dormant state. The most important factors in dealing with herpes are stress and immunity. If a person already has herpes lying dormant in the nervous system, good immunity, low stress and good physical and psychological health will lower the incidence of recurrence. I always get the person to take essential fatty acids, such as evening primrose (dosage is usually 2,000 mg twice daily), on an ongoing basis, as it helps reduce outbreaks.
A herpes outbreak is one of those health issues where what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. I keep several topical herpes remedies in my dispensary, often needing to fish for which one works for an individual. The most successful remedies are listed below.
Lemon balm has shown antiviral effects against a wide range of viruses, including herpes simplex. Glycyrrhizic acid is extracted from licorice and is most effective against shingles (Herpes zoster), a related non-genital form of the virus. I have also found glycyrrhizic acid very successful with genital herpes. Mixing the acid with menthol widens the range of usefulness of this ointment.
Menthol has strong antiviral properties, especially against herpes viruses. The famous Chinese White Flower oil combines several volatile oils, including menthol. Applying this topically has been successful for some, but others find it irritating. It can be diluted with almond or olive oils to make it more soothing to inflamed tissue, but this weakens its antiviral effect. Several of my patients over the years have found yellow Listerine soaked onto the area quite effective.
For nutritional support, I recommend beta-carotene (100,000 IU daily), B complex (1 tablet twice daily), vitamin C (1,000 mg twice daily), bioflavonoids (1,000 mg daily), vitamin E (400 IU daily), zinc (15 to 60 mg daily) and lysine (1 to 3 grams daily). In about 80 percent of the cases I’ve seen, lysine supplementation really speeds up suppression of the outbreak, but in about 20 percent of patients, lysine seems to make it worse. However, I have not been able to determine the differences between the two groups, so, unfortunately, you’ll just have to experiment.
Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal.
Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than 10 years, with a private practice in Battleground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).
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